For more than 2,500 years, the Parthenon has been shot at and set on fire by marauders, looted for its sculptures, rocked
by earthquakes, weathered by wind and disfigured by misguided
attempts at restoration. Now, a team of architects and engineers is investigating
the many mysteries of this icon of Western civilization: How did the
ancient Greeks design and build their masterpiece so quickly — in a
span of just eight years? And how did they achieve such precision and
perfection without modern tools and architectural aids that we take for
granted today, such as comprehensive plans or drawings?
An hour-long NOVA special directed and produced by Gary Glassman, Secrets of the Parthenon delves into the 20-ton marble jewel of the Acropolis, a 70,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with virtually no right angles or straight lines. With unprecedented access to the Greek government’s decades-long, $100 million restoration project, this documentary aims to take viewers back in time and inside the minds of the ancient Greeks as they created their most enduring architectural miracle, a publicly endorsed monument to democracy, the goddess Athena and Greek glory in general. While the 46-column Parthenon may be “just” a building, it has inspired the architecture of dozens of state and government structures around the world, from the French Parliament to the United States’ Supreme Court, and it’s almost as much for this reason as its subtle, illusory lines that it’s notable.
As with many academic short-form titles, Secrets of the Parthenon feels it necessary to repeat its central query and thesis over and over, but it eventually gets to the point. Using interviews with Charalambos Bouras, the restoration project’s president, as well as University of Florida professor Barbara Barletta and University of Oregon professor Jeffrey Hurwit, the movie shows Greek master craftsmen struggling with 10-ton blocks of marble (think of some of their work as carefully constructing a huge cap for your back molar) and striving to rediscover the lost tools and techniques of their ancestors. It also elucidates the aesthetic considerations that informed the structure’s construction, during the reign of Pericles. Secrets of the Parthenon is perhaps most interesting, however, in its last third, when it delves into the competing systems of measurements (Doric, Common and Ionic) that had to be juggled while using masonists from all over different parts of Greece. It’s math, sure, and wonkish at that, but still pretty fascinating.
Housed in a regular Amray case, the hour-long Secrets of the Parthenon is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen, and comes with scene selection, closed captions for the hearing impaired and video descriptions for the visually impaired. Apart from downloadable materials for educators, though, there are no supplemental special features, which is a major bummer for the average consumer perhaps looking for a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, DVD diversion for their kids. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) D (Disc)